Glorifying Dirty Coal: Spikes New Reality Program Overlooks Toxic Threats to Workers and Community


Coal-mining facility at Thurber, Texas

Image via Wikipedia


Spike TV, the cable channel owned by Viacom, who also owns CBS, is promoting a new reality program, COAL, that appears to romanticize the people who work in the nation’s coal mines while overlooking the hazards its’ production poses for the miners, their community and the environment that absorbs the dirty waste product into air and drinking water systems.

It seems odd that a media source not actually owned by Rupert Murdoch and the Koch Brothers would document our nations long relationship with this source of energy without exposing it’s viewers to our continued use of it and it’s impact on public health issues.  That appears to be the case however as I reviewed their promo that was ironically entitled Learning the Truth About Coal”, a series slated to start on Wednesday, March 30th. Sadly, the entire truth seems absent.

The virtues of coals impact as a reliable source of energy over the years and into the near future are made apparent in this series and its assimilation into many of the products we use and depend on is pointed out too.  But when it comes to pointing out coals downside it stops simply with: “like most fossil fuels, it’s not easy to get to, plus transportation of the fuel is astoundingly difficult.”

This aspect alone has negative consequences for all of us in terms of heavier concentrations of CO2 emissions into the atmosphere.  Will the COAL reality series convey this along with focusing on the rugged and difficult task that workers endure to supply the nation with a product that is claimed to “have a higher total energy content than ALL of the world’s known recoverable oil”?

It appears however that the producers want to focus more on the work force that work in the coal mining process.  Thom Beers, who’s the executive producer for this series, has made similar programs that are popular with American viewers.  His History Channel series, “Ice Road Truckers” and “Ax Men” are the two highest rated shows to ever air on that cable channel while his Discovery Channel program, “Deadliest Catch”, has won rave reviews for critics at the NY Times.  Political policy issues that surround such jobs are absent on these programs but then again none of these earlier reality TV successes have dealt with a topic that is as critical to our future as is the use of fossil fuels, which coal is the most abundant.

The threat that coal’s continued use poses to workers’ health as well as their families and the threat that increased CO2 from coal burning poses to our environment have near and long-term consequences that could hurt economies dramatically.  Coal is the largest contributor to the human-made increase of CO2 in the atmosphere.

Studies show that coal dust causes pneumoconiosis, bronchitis and emphysema in exposed workers.  The waste products coal production produces include uranium, thorium, and other radioactive and heavy metal by-products along with  toxic metalloids like arsenic.  These toxic elements make their way into the local drinking water supplies and the air we all breathe, creating long-term health issues and drive up health care costs for all Americans.

The newer practice of mountain top removal doesn’t appear to be a topic that will be covered in Spikes “COAL” program either.  In fact the only hazard that this reality TV program will focus on is what life is like for those who work in the deep, dank mines and the safety hazards they face going into them.  Mountaintop removal eliminates many of these safety hazards but creates others for the workers and the nearby communities they live in.  Not only is land reuse nearly impossible but this devastating practice makes it easier for toxic waste to enter water supplies and destroy many animal species.

Once the coal leaves its source and makes its way to the power plants it supplies around the country and other parts of the world, there are serious health hazards that it contributes to at these points.  Toxic waste emitted from coal-fired plants, like Nitrogen Oxide, located relatively close to large population areas have been shown to increase incidences of lung related diseases.


Nitrogen Oxide also creates low-level ozone (smog) as well as contributing to the acidification of lakes and streams, killing off many marine life species that local economies depend on.  Mercury is another by-product of spent coal that poses serious health risk for humans and animals.  According to a report from the Environmental Defense Fund:

“Mercury can cause severe nervous system problems in humans and wildlife. Especially vulnerable are developing fetuses, babies and children. Eating fish is one of the primary ways people ingest mercury, which accumulates in the tissues of fish and other animals.”

With these ugly scenarios that develop from our use of coal, I sincerely hope that Spike TV doesn’t nonchalantly ignore them.  If they don’t address these issues directly in their program, which right now doesn’t appear likely, they should be willing to put a disclaimer at the beginning and end of each program that warns viewers about the potential health and environmental hazards that our continued use of coal presents to them.

Those wishing to convey their concerns about how coal is being presented in this Spike reality TV series can contact the show’s producers by linking on to


Original Productions

Environmental effects of Coal


6 responses to “Glorifying Dirty Coal: Spikes New Reality Program Overlooks Toxic Threats to Workers and Community

  1. It’s a shame people can’t comment on this on AC. I did retweet it though. When I read this post, I thought about the billboards I see here in Pennsylvania that say “Coal: Clean Energy”. I think the miner deaths in West Virginia last year and then the Chilean miners’ story also, prompted the producers to make this show. Like all reality shows, it will only tell the story the producers want to tell. It will give a false impression of the coal industry in general, I am sure.

    • Good point Donna. A little positive PR to cover the ugly side of dirty coal may be what’s going on here but I could find no link to this show and the people who usually don’t support the climate science. But still …

  2. I don’t believe anybody who has seen any of the “Coal” reality TV episodes would say that the series glamorizes underground mining. No slave owning society ever used free men as miners.
    Reclaimed mountain top removal sites make good Elk habitat, other than that they’re pretty horrible.

    • Yoni,
      I think I used the word “romanticize”, not “glamorize”. There is a difference.

      My beef was that the series, along with everything good and bad it wanted to tell it viewers about coal mining, is does as I pointed out, fail to expose “it’s viewers to our continued use of it and it’s impact on public health issues. “

    • You misunderstand the intent of my post pookieman.

      I’m not hammering the workers here. Their courage and determination to make a living for their families is respected. I am merely pointing out that this series tends to glorify an industry, though it has helped move our economy forward in the past, is now a source of energy that we’ve finally learned is not only is a source of serious health issues for these families and the surrounding environs, but is adding, unnaturally, to the CO2 levels in our atmosphere that is enhancing the green house effect causing global warming at a faster rate than would naturally occur.

      There are clean, renewable energy industries that could substitute for coal over time and transition these coal workers into them steadily. I am in no way advocating shutting down coal production immediately. Only pointing out the hazards our children face if we don’t transition off of this and the other dirty fossil fuels we now currently depend on we may well be too late to curb the ill-effects of what we are now seeing in the intense climate change reactions to global warming.

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